INTERVIEW: The Grascals "I Am Strong"

Great musicians will always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must form a bond – one that, more often than not, goes beyond the purely musical to the personal. For The Grascals, that bond has been forged at the intersection of personal friendships, shared professional resumes and an appreciation for the innovative mingling of bluegrass and country music that has been a hallmark of the Nashville scene for more than forty years. As their releases prove, The Grascals’ rare musical empathy gives them an unerring ear for just the right touch to illuminate each offering’s deepest spirit - whether they’re digging into one of their original songs or reworking a bluegrass classic or pop standard.

I recently visited with Kristin Scott Benson, one of the members of The Grascals to visit about the video that is hitting the emotions of listeners with it’s powerful lyrics and about their new project entitled “The Grascals & Friends” available at Cracker Barrel. The Grascals & Friends - Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin is now available at all Cracker Barrel locations and online, with Cracker Barrel donating a portion of the proceeds from this CD to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The Grascals bring their own bluegrass style to life on this exclusive new CD with eight of their friends, including Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels and Dolly Parton.

Bev: Kristin, 2010 was a great year for the Grascals and now you have the new CD in conjunction with Cracker Barrel. Visit with me about how this came about and why it is a perfect fit with the group.

KRISTIN: The Grascals have always tried to affiliate with other country artists. That is one thing that differentiates our band from most Bluegrass bands. We have ties with some of the people that are more mainstream. We always look for an opportunity to do an album where we feature some of those collaborations. The Cracker Barrel record was the perfect fit for that. On this project are folks like Joe Nichols, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley; some of the younger guys along with some legends, such as Tom T. Hall, Charlie Daniels, and Dolly Parton. There is a wide spread of artists on the album. That is something The Grascals have always valued. I think the affiliation we are most proud of is the one with Cracker Barrel, because it has such a recognizable brand. It is associated with so many of the traits that the typical Blue Grass audience members identify with which makes it a perfect for Blue Grass in general and especially for our band.

Bev: You mentioned Dolly Parton. The new video which features Dolly is out now which is also in association with St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Research which is also a highly recognized organization. How did that come to be?

KRISTIN: The highlight of the new record, we all agree, is the song “I Am Strong”. This is the song that the album really centers on. It was inspired by a trip to St. Jude and was co-written by Grascals member, Jamie Johnson. He visited St. Jude and saw signs or posters on the wall with blanks that the kids have filled in. The sentence started with “I am” and then they filled in the blank. There were all kinds of things, like “I am homesick”, “I am nauseated”, and “I am sad”. One kid wrote “I am vomit”. Just being a silly kid. There were all kinds of answers. But in the center of all of them it said “I Am Strong”. This statement inspired Jamie to write the song of his life. It has propelled us into a partnership with St. Jude that we are so proud of. It originally started actually with the Musician’s Against Childhood Cancer Festival which is in Columbus, Ohio by dear friends of ours, Darrel and Phyllis Atkins. They have a huge Blue Grass Festival which they have put on for many years. Then their daughter was diagnosed with cancer and became a patient at St. Jude and when they lost their daughter to a brain tumor and they turned the festival into a benefit for St. Jude. The bands that are involved with that festival already had a tie to St. Jude. The Grascals in particular had made some trips down to the hospital to present some checks from the proceeds of the Festival. That is how the tie with St. Jude originally started. Then when Jamie co-wrote this song, it just brought the Grascals even closer to the kids and to the organization as a whole. The video features a lot of the kids. Dolly Parton is in the video, but for once she is not the star. The little kids are who are acting so bravely.

Bev: There are two versions of the song. I have seen the video one with Dolly. But you also have a version which features a whole array of country artists. What is the purpose of having two versions?

KRISTIN: It is only one video, but there are two tracks on the album, one is a bonus track that features everybody from the record plus Terri Clark and Steven Seagull. The bonus track is at the end.

Bev: For those who have seen it, what kind of reaction are you getting?

KRISTIN: These kids are inspiring. Most of us in the band are parents. It breaks your heart to see these kids who are fighting such a serious illness at such a young age. After you are parents, dealing with your own kids, it really takes the compassion to a new level. When we play the song at shows people are overwhelmed. But when they see the video it really comes to light because they get to put faces with the ideas expressed in the song. You just cannot look at these kids and not be inspired. Another factor is that you see these parents and how brave they have to be. As sick as these kids are, it has to be even harder on the parents. Some of them are really young parents. If they have a two year old as a patient there, they may be only twenty five themselves. They all face it with such courage. For the very young kids, they are just living life what ever comes their way. They are not even aware of the gravity of the situation but the parents sure are! So you get to see them as well as the kids. It gives you the feel of the struggle they are dealing with. I think it is also a song of hope, which is what St. Jude is all about. From the very first meeting we had with them, they said the wanted to accurately portray the hospital. And the hospital is a place of hope. These kids are treated so well, especially the younger ones. They run around and play. It is almost like they do not realize that they are sick. St. Jude prides themselves on making this experience as painless as possible for the patient and for their families.

Bev: The group has had an insane last couple of years with all you have accomplished. Which achievements that you are most proud of?

KRISTIN: For one thing, the band’s continued longevity. The band is six years old. Sometimes you have that initial shot in the arm because you are something new and people being excited about you. But then you need to figure out how to sustain that. I think The Grascals have hit that point where everybody is burrowed in and we have proven that the band is in this for the long haul. That in itself is an accomplishment. It is a tough time to be a Blue Grass band but the band is thriving. Even with the current economic situation and I am thankful for that.

Bev: That is a great way of putting it, because the awards are great. But when you have that kind of friendship and the ties that you have, and to be able to say “hey, we’ve been around a long time”, that is very important, especially today.

KRISTIN: Yes, awards are nice but you have to make a living. We all feel so blessed. And we are lucky in that none of us are actually young in this band. We have so many years of experience with other bands. We realize how rare it is to actually be able to support yourselves playing music. We are incredibly thankful for that. I think one of the things that helps this band survive is because we realize it is a precious opportunity. You have to appreciate it and be thankful for it. Not too many people even have the chance to do that. There is a lot of gratitude in every single member of this band. We have all done it long enough to really appreciate it.

Bev: How has the social media impacted your band? By that I mean Twitter, Face Book, My Space etc.

KRISTIN: It is a huge part of what we do now. It really changes the dynamics of communication with fans. You can be very personal with them. I have some neighbor friends who had never seen the band and they are very well informed about what we are doing. I was amazed. I asked them how they knew all this and they said we are Facebook fans. They knew everything we were doing. It gives us so much accessibility to the fans and it is a tremendous asset. It would be foolish not to make use of it. And it is free! That is the best part.

Another thing that has been a great help to Blue Grass is satellite radio. It has made Blue Grass available to listeners twenty-four hours a day. We have never had the benefit of mainstream radio and this has given people a chance to hear the music around the clock. It is always there and it has grown the genre as a whole so much. We are incredibly thankful for that outlet. I think everyone has seen an increase in popularity since we have had that means of getting the music to people.

Bev: I know you are always doing new things that are fun and exciting. Aside from the new video you have out now, what will be next?

KRISTIN: Well, we encourage everybody to go to our website and check out the video there. And while you are there, look at our tour schedule. That is the best way for us to connect with fans. We would like for them to come to live shows and see us. We have a huge media run planned for the Cracker Barrel record. It starts in Nashville and then we go down to Florida and we go all the way up the east coast to New York. We will spend two or three days in New York City. We are very proud of this record and we do have a lot of stuff going on with that. We are very proud of the affiliation with Cracker Barrel and also with St. Jude. We want everyone to know that part of the proceeds go to St. Jude. That is another reason we are so invested in this emotionally.

There is one other record that I would like to mention. We are part of the fiftieth anniversary of the celebration of the Andy Griffith Show and Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel has put together a Fiftieth Anniversary Tin that they are selling in their stores. We are playing seven or eight songs from the Andy Griffith Show.

Bev: Kristin, always nice to visit with you and I am very excited for all that The Grascals have going on. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to chat with me.

KRISTIN: We certainly appreciate your time and thank you. We look forward to seeing you again too.

For more information on The Grascals visit

The Grascals & Friends - Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin is now available at all Cracker Barrel locations and online, with Cracker Barrel donating a portion of the proceeds from this CD to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.


The rugged feel of steel guitar and fiddle, the images of growing up in a world of fields and farms, of heartbreak and hard work … You can’t miss the fact that Lee Brice is country all the way
His voice, his sound, even his wide-open grin are as country as they come – but his view of life is much broader than that.

Lee Brice invited me to come and join him to visit about his crazy year and what fans can look forward to in the upcoming year.

Bev: Congratulations on a fantastic year! You have been so busy and had so many rewards this year for all your hard work. Please tell me where you are with the music and what is next on the horizon?

LB: Our new album, “Love Like Crazy”, has been out since June.  It took awhile to get done.  We have had three singles that have done well.  But this album has really done something special; it put us on the map and got our foot in a lot of doors.   Now we are moving on to the next single, “Beautiful Every Time”.  It is currently on radio, and just broke top forty.  I’m hoping that this one will do as well as the last one and be on the top forty for fifty weeks.  I wrote this one so it better be good. (laughs)  

We have so many plans this year promoting.  I am booked up every day until March.  I will be gone twenty days leaving on Sunday morning. One show after another; these dates are all in California.  Then we start our “Higher Education Tour”.  Jared Neiman and I have been friends for about ten years and we have always talked about being on the radio together and touring together.  And now, here we are on the radio together and doing a tour!  We plan to visit college markets and have a great time.  Also I will be out with Willie Nelson all summer.  So this whole year is filled with new experiences for me.  It seems like we stepped up to the first step with “Loving Like Crazy” and now we have stepped up to the next step.  So if you get a few of those in you can slow down to some extent.  I love playing shows, but we probably did two hundred fifty shows last year, plus I did acoustic events over and above, so it would be nice if we could slow down a little too.  It looks like another year of putting our head down and just rocking it! 

Bev:  I know you have been in the business a long time, but you really started to get attention when you wrote “More Than a Memory” for Garth Brooks, which was a huge hit for a mega-star country artist, talk to me about the expectations and the added pressure you feel after a start like that.

LB:  “More Than a Memory” debuted at number one and that it is a record that can never be broken.  It can be tied but it can never be broken.  So when that happened I thought, “So where do I go from here?”  It must be all downhill.  Then came “Love Like Crazy”. As a writer it was so cool to have “Love Like Crazy” and be an artist on it, a singer, to have it break all kinds of records.  It broke a forty eight year old record of being on the charts for fifty weeks! I am simply blessed to have had these experiences, and I try to do my best with every song and not focus on the records set and breaking new ones.

Bev:  Being on the road so much, how has it changed your priorities and your goals?

Lb:  Before two thousand seven, I was writing songs every day.  It was about building up a catalogue of songs.  Now I do not have time to do that. I just went out and picked out a new bus for the upcoming year because I am living on the road. I am home for two days and I do not feel like working.  I want to relax and I need to recharge.  While I am on the road, I bring my friends Rob Hatch and Lance Miller, who I wrote “Beautiful Every Time” with, and Rhett Akins, who is an artist as well, John Stone and Billy Montana with whom I wrote “More Than a Memory” and “Seven Days, a Thousand Times”.  These are the guys I have been writing with for years.  Jerrod Niemann and I will also be writing on the tour.  While on the road, you write at all hours of the day and night.  But right now while I am so busy, we toil to find just the right vehicle for me, not just any old song. It has to be a killer that we know will not be ignored.  We take our time writing it, we do not write it all in one day.   Right now it is more about quality not quantity.  But to be honest, I think the quantity year built that muscle for me so that now when I do not have a lot of time to write, I can write a good song. 

Bev:  Do you have certain things that you find that inspire you such as love songs, human nature kind of songs? You are good at that. Do you find that you are drawn to that?

LB:  I am drawn to those kinds of song, always have been. Some of my favorite songs growing up were “A Lady Down on Love” by Alabama; “Holding Her and Loving You” and “Baby Blue” by George Strait; and “The Dance” by Garth.  I personally love that stuff.  As a songwriter, it is fun to write.  As an artist, I need songs like “It Ain’t Goin’ Down Till the Sun Comes Up”, because that is rocking. One of my biggest shows that I have ever seen is Garth Brooks doing that very song.  He would get you rocking and then he would bring you down slow with him and a guitar.  It is like a roller coaster ride, bringing you up and down; very dynamic. People are having an experience.  But yes, those heart break songs and love songs are really me.  I have to control myself from writing those every day because I have enough of those in my catalogue.  I need some of those rocking songs as well.

Bev:  I read recently in another interview with you about being single and the kind of person you are and what you are looking for in a person.  Was that uncomfortable for you to reveal so much personal information or are you an open book?

LB:   Well, I am kind of an open book. I am dating someone now and she wonders why I never talk about her.  But this is how I arrived at this place where I am now and that is what people are curious about.

Bev:  Going back to the album, when meeting with the fans, what do you hear most often from them about which song means the most to them or the personal connection to your music?

LB:  A lot of people come up to me and want to talk about “Love Like Crazy”.  So many people heard it and were affected by it in a lot of different ways; however, a lot of people also say “Beautiful Every Time” is their favorite song.  I have heard comments that the album as a whole is a good mix--kind of like that roller coaster effect I was talking about.  It is an album that took us over a year to put together, so it is old music to me, but it is new to everyone else. I will be ready to go ahead and start a new project. 

Bev:  What is the most difficult thing for you to deal with being gone so much?

LB:  I was lucky enough to be warned and prepared by fellow artists and by my producer on what to expect. I was mentally prepared me for this.  I think there are a lot of artists who make it big kind of quickly and who are just not ready to be gone on the road so much.  It is a tough thing; luckily I was prepared years before it actually happened. However, it still is not easy.  Every night when you get on that stage and they are singing your song and I get to play guitar, it makes you realize that this is what I dreamed about when I was a kid and it makes it all worth it.  Sometimes you feel like you do a lot of work and it does not feel like it is worth it. For example you do a show for a station and they still do not play your song.  That is tough to deal with. But you have to realize it is what it is and you put your head down and the blinders on and wake up in a new city and play another show.  One day it will calm down, I will play fifty shows a year and just enjoy life.

Bev:  Let us go back to what you mentioned about dreaming as a kid. Where did you start out singing when you were young? Where did you first start performing?

LB:   It was definitely in church.  I grew up in church.  My mother sang every Sunday. I was in the choir.  My daddy was singing in gospel quartets.  All we listened to in our house, all I ever knew there was gospel quartets. Sandy Patti and Christian kind of music; a little bit of Alabama, Oak Ridge Boys, The Beach Boys. When I was seven years old I sat at the piano and played “Oh, How I Love Jesus” in front of the church.  I did not do a lot of playing after that until I was eleven or twelve. Then I would sing solos in church. I would play a couple of songs that I wrote for the guitar in front of church. I won a couple of contest in High School and when I was in college, I continued writing songs; I have been writing my own songs since I was ten years old. I really did not play for money until I got to Nashville.  I did have a band back home for a couple of years, a local home town band. We did some of my songs that I wrote and also rock and roll, country, everything.   So really four years ago when I hit the road, that was the beginning for me. 

So now I am looking forward to the Higher Education Tour, which should be fun. I am doing the Country Throw Down Tour with Willie Nelson and Jamie Johnson and Randy Hauser.  I grew up listening to Willie singing “Help Me Make it Through the Night”, and all his music, and listening to him as a song writer.  Being on the road with him, I want to spend as much time as I can with Willie while I am there. 

Bev:  Lee, you are so amazing and inspiring, I always enjoy spending time with you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thank you for the music. I look forward what is next and wish you the very best of everything.

LB: Always enjoy seeing you and visiting with you as well, and will see you again soon I am sure. Thank you for wanting to do an interview, I appreciate it.

For more information on Lee Brice visit

ARTICLE: Little Jimmy Dickens 90th Birthday

Little Jimmy Dickens or as some know as “Tater”, celebrated his 90th birthday with friends, family as well as fellow Grand Ole Opry members and country music artists at Rippy’s on lower Broadway in Nashville on January 19th. His birthday was a month earlier on Dec. 19th.

Nashville Mayor, Karl Dean took part in the festivities and to proclaim Dickens, "A man with extraordinary stature in the music business and beyond." Danielle Peck led the crowded room singing “Happy Birthday” and later Sherrie Austin and Bryan White both were on hand to assist with cutting the guitar shaped cake.

Sherrie Austin - Little Jimmy Dickens - Bryan White
 Some of the guests included Bill Anderson, The Moore Sisters, Carrie & Debbie, Cerrito, Georgia Middleman, Guy Gilchrist, Jan Howard, Keith Hilbrey, members of Riders in the Sky, Jessie Coulter and John Conlee as well as many more music industry friends and fellow country artists.

Photos of the event can be seen at